Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Fire of Ares by Michael Ford

Have you heard of the movie 300? I haven’t seen it (it’s probably a little too violent for my tastes), but it is based on the Battle of Thermopylae and one of history’s famous last stands. During the battle King Leonidas led 300 Spartans and a few other forces, including some Helots, against a massive invading army led by Xerxes I of Persia. Although the Spartans were widely known as fierce warriors, it really wasn’t a fair fight. The Spartans were vastly outnumbered. It was a force of tens of thousands against a few hundred. King Leonidas positioned his force to hold the Persian army from advancing through a narrow mountain pass that led inland. According to legend he was betrayed by one of his own people who showed the Persians another way through the mountains that guarded the coast. The Persians flanked around and then surrounded Leonidas and the 300. Leonidas and the 300 purportedly killed a disproportionate number of Persians, but they eventually succumbed. Their sacrifice was not in vain since according to some this gave time for the Athenians to organize a crushing counter-attack against the Persians.

Spartan warriors were feared in battle. They were like the special forces of today’s armies. To become a Spartan warrior meant enduring the most rigorous training a soldier could undertake at that time.

When not fighting wars, Spartan commanders would often conduct attack drills. For example, a commander would order two large groups to form 50 yards apart, each with 4columns of men. This was called the Phalanx position. “Each group proceeded forward, first at a walking pace, then a jog, then faster still.” As they drew together, both sets of men would run at full speed until they met with a crash. Some would fall and be stepped on, the rest would continue to push, digging their heels into the dirt. Both sides would lean their combined weight against the other side until one side gave in. “The conquering phalanx did not stop, but simply walked over their fallen comrades.”

Even the young Spartan boys who entered into the warrior schools would have to endure brutal training such as this. One such boy was Lysander.

In the Fire of Ares we are introduced to Lysander who doesn’t yet know that he is about to be sent to the agogue-Spartan warrior school. Before he receives news of his impending training he is sent on an errand to the market in the city. Lysander is unfamiliar with both the city and marketplace. He experiences great difficulty pushing through the crowds when all of a sudden he is jostled off balance and bumped into a place between two vendor stalls. As he tries to regain his footing a voice behind him says:

“Do what I say and you may live today.”

Lysander tries to escape but a large hand clamps down around his neck and pushes him against a nearby wall. As he struggles, Lysander feels the cool side of a blade pressed against his throat, just above his pulsing artery. Everything goes black.

Except for the large bump on the back of his head, Lysander awakes otherwise unhurt, but what he doesn’t realize immediately is that a greater harm has been done to him. The attacker has stolen something that Lysander was wearing underneath his shirt, hidden and known only to himself and his mother. He was wearing a special Amulet. Its name: The Fire of Ares.

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